Ten years ago in the summer of 2008, my friends and I watched a DVD called Clouds Without Water by Justin Peters . The DVD prompted me to leave my prosperity gospel church a few months later—and within three years—every single person in the room left our prosperity gospel church to become members at local churches that preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Justin Peters is an evangelist and an author. He’s delivered some of my favourite messages at conferences like the G3 Conference and the Strange Fire Conference. He’s also the author of Do Not Hinder Them: A Biblical Examination of Childhood Conversion. And his Clouds Without Water seminar is a must-listen to anyone who wants to understand the prosperity gospel. Visit Justin Peters’ website to get your copy of his book, DVDs and other material.
When I watched Clouds Without Water ten years ago, it felt like it was made just for me. It seemed like Justin Peters was talking directly to me. So it’s an honour that this time Justin Peters really is talking to me. I’ve admired Justin Peters from afar for ten years, and as you’ll discover in this interview, he’s even humbler and kinder than I imagined. I couldn’t resist asking Justin Peters just Seven Questions. So this is the first of two interviews. The second interview will be available tomorrow. I trust that you’ll enjoy his words as much as I do.
Sir, you’ve mentioned that your interest in the Word-Faith or prosperity gospel movement began at sixteen years old when you went to see a faith-healer to heal your cerebral palsy. What happened when you went to see the faith-healer? How soon after that did you reject the Word-Faith movement?
Hi Samuel. First let me say what an honor it is to do this interview with you. Over the past several months of becoming aware of you I have really come to admire and respect your work. Thank you for what you do, brother.
My introduction to the Word-Faith movement did indeed come as a teenager. When I was 16, at the enthusiastic encouragement from a neighbor who claimed to have received a “word from the Lord” about my healing from cerebral palsy, I went to see a faith healer by the name of Nora Lam. I was there with a friend of mine named Justin Fisher, with whom I not only share the same name but also the same disability. I invited him to come with me in hopes that we would both be healed. The big night finally arrived, it was December 3rd, 1989 at the Holiday Inn. The service was quite lengthy, filled with emotionally charged music and then some “preaching” (which was nothing more than her telling fanciful stories) by Lam. Everything was building, though, to the healing part of the evening. That’s why everyone was there. Just before the “healing” began the offering was collected. This is by design and is done by all faith healers. The not-so-subtle insinuation is that if you need healing – particularly if you have a serious malady – you had best dig deeply.
After the money was collected, Lam asked for everyone who needed to be healed to form a line. Dozens of people did. People would come up to her one by one and she would dip her finger in a little vial of oil and touch them on the forehead. One by one people would fall over, being “slain in the spirit.” Growing up Baptist I had never seen anything like this before and became even more convinced that Justin and I were about to be healed. Needless to say, we weren’t.
A long story shorter than it should be is that Justin and I along with my Dad managed to meet with her after the service in a private room. She looked at Justin and me, then turned to my Dad and asked him, “What is your financial situation?” My Dad replied, “What does that have to do with anything?” Lam responded, “The more money you give to the Lord’s work, the more likely it is that he will answer your prayers.” My Dad said, “Boys, let’s go.” We did.
That was my first exposure to the Word-Faith movement. I had no idea that it was a movement or that it had a name. I thought I was a Christian but I now know that I wasn’t. I slowly moved away from the belief that it is always God’s will for a person to be healed though I really did not have a solid theological basis for doing so at the time. It was more of an emotional and common-sense decision than one based upon sound doctrine.
It was not until years later as a seminary student that I began to study the Word-Faith movement (prosperity gospel) at a more academic level. As I began to realize just how theologically heretical the movement actually is my interest in it grew. For my Master of Theology degree I wrote my thesis on Benny Hinn and attended many of his crusades for research. A church in Alabama heard of my work and invited me to come in and teach on this subject back in 2004. From there invitations just kept coming in and I’ve been kept busy teaching on this subject since.
What is the Word-Faith movement? How does it differ from other charismatic movements? Why is it a false gospel?
The Word-Faith movement is the proper term given to a movement more commonly known as the Health and Wealth gospel, Prosperity gospel, Name It and Claim It gospel. It is basically the doctrine which holds that it is always God’s will for a person to be wealthy and always God’s will for a person to be physically healed provided that he has enough faith. The movement is actually rooted in the metaphysical cults such as Christian Science, New Age, Gnosticism and New Thought. Some of the leading proponents of this movement include Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Jesse Duplantis, Joel Osteen, Rod Parsley, TD Jakes, Paula White, Joseph Prince and Joyce Meyer. Other popular teachers such as Steven Furtick and Beth Moore are regularly associating and partnering with these false teachers and are adopting many of the tenets of Word-Faith theology. The United States has created this prosperity theology and through networks such as TBN, Daystar, The Word Network, etc., has exported this theological poison to the rest of the world so much so that now the face of “Christianity” around the world today is the prosperity gospel. I have preached in 26 different countries and can tell you from personal experience that as bad as the Word-Faith movement is here, it is far worse in other parts of the world.
The New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement is a twin movement to Word-Faith and is everything the latter is only worse. It has an even more pronounced emphasis on miracles, signs and wonders and modern day Apostles. Leaders in this movement include Rick Joyner, Bill Johnson of Bethel Church and Jesus Culture, John Arnott, Lou Engle and Stacie Campbell. Though there is a bit of distinction, there is little difference between the two. In fact, today we are seeing them meld together. We are seeing NAR guys like Bill Johnson partnering with more classic Word-Faith guys like Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn.
Word-Faith/NAR differ from a simple charismatic position in that the latter simply holds that the Apostolic (Sign) gifts of tongues, interpretation of tongues, miracles and physical healing continue to be in operation in the church today. Even if you do not speak in tongues personally, if you believe that that gift is operative in the church today then that is, by definition, the charismatic position.
This is a position with which I strongly disagree but it is not in and of itself heretical. Genuine believers can come down on different sides of this debate. That having been said, I do believe that it is an extraordinarily slippery slope from the charismatic position right into Word-Faith/NAR. Once a charismatic position is accepted, the sufficiency of scripture is jettisoned. I know some charismatics would cry foul here, but I honestly do not see how it could not be so. Years ago I used to refer to “clear-thinking charismatics.” I no longer use that term because this is such a crucial issue with such far reaching consequences.
Word-Faith/NAR teach the following heretical doctrines: 1) That God created not ex-nihilo but rather created out of a tangible substance called “faith” of which His words were containers (hence Word of Faith). 2) Adam was an exact duplicate of God. 3) When Adam fell he lost his supposed deity, God was kicked out of his own creation and Satan became the legal god of planet Earth. 4) When a person becomes a Christian he regains the deity Adam supposedly lost and is now a little god. 5) As “little gods” we as believers can speak things into existence using our own “words of faith” and are entitled to health and wealth. 5) Jesus was just a man with the “anointing” and was divested of deity on earth. This is Kenosis theology. 7) Jesus paid for our sins not by His bodily death on the cross but rather by His supposed spiritual death in Hell where He ceased to be God and actually had to get reborn. 6) We as Christians are today the same as Christ was then on Earth with all of the rights and privileges.
All of these points, of course, have various nuances and must be fleshed out for a full treatment of them, but this is Word-Faith theology in a nutshell. In short, all Word-Faith are charismatic, but not all charismatics are Word-Faith. The vast majority are, but not all of them. Some may push back on this but I have studied this too long, have travelled too broadly and have seen too much to ever be convinced otherwise.
It is a false gospel because it has a false god, a false Jesus and offers a false reason to come to Christ. Word-Faith/NAR preachers rarely talk about sin. If they do, sin is presented as something that keeps you from having “your best life now” rather than something which offends God and earns His righteous wrath. The prosperity gospel says, “Come to Jesus because He will make you rich and heal your body.” This is not the biblical gospel at all.
Word-Faith teachers preach the prosperity gospel, a false gospel that encourages people to covet. The Bible teaches that unrepentant covetous people will not inherit the kingdom of God. With that in mind, are people within the Word-Faith movement genuine Christians?
This is a great question. I maintain that the vast majority of people in this movement are not genuine believers. There are a couple of reasons I say this. One is that this movement presents to people a false god, a false Jesus and a false gospel and a different gospel does not save. The prosperity gospel, as you rightly point out, calls people to indulge their flesh whereas the biblical gospel calls people to put it to death.
The other reason actually speaks to what I believe is one of the greatest theological ironies in existence; specifically, that the Word-Faith leaders who claim to have the highest view of the Holy Spirit and would look at people like you and me and accuse us of not believing in the Holy Spirit or His power, actually have the lowest view of the Holy Spirit.
When God saves someone, that person is indwelt by the third Person of the triune God, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit creates in that person a love for God and His word. When a Christian begins to read and study the Bible, the Holy Spirit illumines its meaning to that person’s heart and mind resulting in spiritual maturation. Over time all Christians mature. They may mature at different rates, but they mature. Babies don’t stay babies – babies grow up. As the Christian matures he will not remain in serious theological error. The Holy Spirit residing in him will bear witness that what he is hearing from these false teachers is indeed false. A genuine Christian simply will not remain in error as egregious as that found in the Word-Faith movement for very long.
The Holy Spirit is not a weakling. If the Holy Spirit is strong enough to save us, He is also strong enough to deliver us out of deception. For the person who stays in this heretical movement year after year, decade after decade, with no awareness that something very serious is wrong, there is good reason to be concerned about his salvation. I have too much confidence in the person and work of the Holy Spirit to believe that someone who is indwelt by Him can stay in that level of deception. And so it is a great irony that the people who claim to have the highest view of the Holy Spirit actually have the lowest view of Him. If you have a friend or family member imbibing the Word-Faith/NAR heresy there is much reason to be concerned.
How should we talk to family and friends who believe in the prosperity gospel?
When talking with friends or family members don’t automatically launch into the metaphysical cultic origins and the aberrant views of Christology and atonement because they won’t understand those things. What I suggest is start with something simple and concrete – healing for example. Ask if they believe it is always God’s will to be physically healed. This is an exploratory question to see if they are willing to have their theology changed by scripture. If they are listening to any of these false teachers they will enthusiastically answer in the affirmative. Once they do, then say, “Well, what do you do with Moses (Exodus 4:11)? Or Elisha (2 Kings 13:14)? Or Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23)? Or the Apostle Paul (Galatians 4:13)?”
Here are these faithful servants of God (and we could list more) who suffered from physical ailments and yet were not healed. So now the person has to make a decision. Whom is he going to believe: God or the prosperity preacher? I have posed this question to many people over the years. I have had some people say to me, “Well, I don’t care what that says, I know God does not want anyone to be sick.” If the person is not open to having his beliefs corrected from scripture, there is nowhere else to go. There is no other card that can be played.
If however, that person says something like, “Huh, well, I don’t know. I’ve never thought of that before.” In other words, if you sense some tenderness in him, some willingness to bend his knee to what he sees plainly taught in the Bible, then that is a good sign! That is what you want to see. That may well be evidence that you are dealing with a genuine Christian, just one who has been led astray. Or, it may be that you are dealing with someone who is about to become a Christian. If you sense a willingness to submit to scripture and abandon the wolf he or she has been following, then that is a wide open door to spend more time with that person exploring the scriptures. Walk through that door! Ask that person to explain to you what he understands about the gospel and what real repentance is. Don’t give leading questions that they can answer with one or two words. Have them explain to you in their owns words what the gospel is. Be gentle, be patient, and yet be firm.